Willowbrook considering southern base as Stormont stalemate continues

The managing director of Northern Ireland’s largest salad firm, Willowbrook Foods, has said he is considering setting up a base south of the border because of the ongoing political instability in the North.

John McCann MBE warned the local agri-food sector is in “grave peril” should the current political impasse continue.

Willowbrook Foods has been experiencing a steady period of growth, increasing its presence in both the Irish and UK markets while also taking its first step into international export markets.

However, McCann said he believes the sector overall is beginning to rapidly feel the effects of the political situation.

‘Grave peril’

“One of Northern Ireland’s richest economic assets, its agri-food sector, is in grave peril due to the current stalemate in our Government and the associated lack of decision-making and proactive support,” he said.

“I welcome and echo the message put forward by a wide range of business bodies in May that called for the immediate introduction of practical solutions to address this situation.

From an agri-food perspective, the lack of investment incentives and ongoing uncertainty are seriously hurting our sector.

“Exporting into the Republic of Ireland is a major part of our growth strategy and we are carefully considering establishing a southern presence in order to protect the future of our business.

“We can sit back and watch a thriving, hugely valuable industry begin to fail, or we can demand more from our political representatives.”

McCann said politicians must either hand over power to the civil service to make key decisions or immediately find a solution to return to power.

‘A less attractive place to work’

He added that he believes that Northern Ireland has become a less attractive place to work – particularly for foreign nationals, many of whom are employed within the agri-food sector.

“A large proportion of our valued employee base is not originally from Northern Ireland and [these people] have chosen to make a home for themselves and their families here,” he said.

“We have worked hard to make Willowbrook Foods an attractive, stable place to work for people of all nationalities and I am hugely frustrated that our politicians’ stubbornness, alongside the impact of Brexit, risks making Northern Ireland a less appealing place to live and work.

“I have already written to local MLAs calling for action and am this week writing to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to reiterate my concerns.

The farmers, growers, producers and manufacturers of Northern Ireland have worked too hard and too long to let this ludicrous situation destroy livelihoods.

Willowbrook Foods supplies bagged salads, prepared vegetables and meal accompaniments into the retail, catering and foodservice markets across the UK and Ireland.